Getting Your References in Order; APA Style

Getting the alphabetical order correct within your reference list is relatively simple when you know how, but there are a few gotchas to look out for. Essentially, APA style (6th edition) says your reference list should be ordered according to these rules –

  1. A before B before C, and so on – The simple starting point is to order alphabetically by the first author surname, so Arthur, S. before Brown, M. etc.
    Remember that –

    • You should ignore the case of the first letter, de Walt, S. would appear in exactly the same position if it was De Walt, S.
    • You should ignore any dots (periods), hyphens, apostrophes, spaces and letter accents (diacritics) when ordering.
    • For surnames starting, Mc, Mac or M’C, don’t try to normalise these, treat them as literal, Macnally before McGovern, for example.
    • For names with numerals, (I, II etc.), order these chronologically.
    • For institutions as authors, order by the first significant word, so ignore leading words like “The” or “A”.
    • If the work is truly anonymous (signed “Anonymous”), order the entry as if anonymous were the author’s name. Otherwise, move the title to the author position and order by the first significant word of the title.
  2. When you have multiple works by the same leading author, ensure that single author works precede two authors which precede three authors and so on. When you have the same leading author surname but it’s actually a different author, order then by the initials of that person, so Brown, S. would come before Brown, T.
  3. If all the authors are the same, order by the date of publication chronologically; 2009 before 2010 etc.
  4. If the authors and the publication date are the same, order by the title (again, ignore leading words like “The” or “A”).

Thankfully, if you’re using Recite, you don’t need to worry about this as our tool will automatically point out alphabetical order issues within your reference list when you upload it.

Arrows showing alphabetical order issues

If you think you’re already a pro at ordering your reference lists, take the APA Style Blog’s Alphabetisation Quiz (I scored 10/10, but given I’d just written the logic which drives our alpha error detection, I’d be rather embarrassed if I hadn’t!)

Alternatively, test yourself  by running an existing paper through Recite and see if it finds any issues.